Mesa AZ|Injuries During Criminal Acts

Mesa AZ | Personal Injury attorney Brian T. Allen answers the following question:

Under Arizona law, a person is justified in using physical and in some cases deadly force to protect him or herself if certain requirements are met. Some of Arizona’s self-defense laws can be found here, here, here and here.

But what does this actually mean? What does justified mean as it is used in this context? It does not mean the person who used physical or deadly force is immune from criminal charges stemming from the incident. He or she can be charged with anything from assault to murder. What it means is that if the requirements of the self-defense laws are met in that person’s case, he or she will not be convicted of those crimes. For example, if a man runs up to a woman in the park and tries to steal her purse, and the woman punches the man to stop him, she can technically be charged with a crime for punching the man. Even so, in all likelihood she would be found justified in punching him, so she would not be convicted (she would be found not guilty).

However, even after being found not guilty of a criminal charge, a person can still be sued in civil court based on the same incident. Anybody who remembers the O.J. Simpson cases will be aware of this. O.J. was found not guilty on his murder charges, but he was later sued in civil court by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman. They won a judgment of over $30 million against O.J.

Likewise, if a person is involved in an incident of self-defense and uses justified physical force to injure a criminal, that criminal can bring a civil personal injury claim against the person, even if the person was already found not guilty on any criminal charges. The criminal can claim that the person injured the criminal negligently, and seek damages to hold the person responsible.

This type of case does happen. For example, in this incident a man illegally entered a home and held its occupant – a 90-year-old man – captive while he searched his house for valuables. The burglar had a gun, but through a ruse the 90-year old was able to obtain his own firearm. The burglar shot the 90-year-old, but he fired back and seriously wounded the burglar. The 90-year-old faced no criminal charges, and the burglar was convicted on multiple criminal counts. Notwithstanding, the burglar later brought a personal injury suit from his prison cell against the 90-year-old, alleging that he shot him negligently and seeking damages.

These sorts of cases might appear a little bit ridiculous at first glance, but everybody is entitled to his or her day in court. Thus, it is important to know the law relating to this type of personal injury suit. The pertinent part of Arizona law on this subject reads as follows:

If the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a plaintiff is harmed while the plaintiff is attempting to commit, committing or fleeing after having committed or attempted to commit a felony criminal act or if a person intentionally or knowingly caused temporary but substantial disfigurement or temporary but substantial impairment of any body organ or part or a fracture of any body part of another person, the following presumptions apply to any civil liability action or claim:

1. A victim or peace officer is presumed to be acting reasonably if the victim or peace officer threatens to use or uses physical force or deadly physical force or a police tool product to either:

(a) Protect himself or another person against another person’s use or attempted use of physical force or deadly physical force.

(b) Effect an arrest or prevent or assist in preventing a plaintiff’s escape.

In summary, if you are the victim of a crime, and you injure the criminal during the commission of his or her crime, the criminal can bring a personal injury claim against you and allege that you were negligent. However, you will be presumed to have been acting reasonably (meaning you will be presumed not negligent, and the claim will most likely fail) as long as you used physical force only to protect yourself against the criminal’s use of physical force.

Conversely, if you were the one committing the criminal act, and you are injured by your victim, and you do not think the victim’s actions meet the standards discussed above, you may be able to bring a successful personal injury claim against the victim. If you have any questions regarding this subject, you can always give us a call.

This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice.If you or someone you know wishes to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney, call Mesa AZ Personal Injury Attorney Brian T. Allen at 480.461.5335 or contact him at for a free consultation to discuss your rights and options.